DeKalb CEO: Cities will get a cut of county’s coronavirus relief funds

It’s not a matter of “if” DeKalb’s cities will get a cut of the federal coronavirus aid received by the county, CEO Michael Thurmond said Thursday.

It’s a matter of how — and how much. 

Those questions could be answered as early as Monday.

Thurmond and many of DeKalb’s mayors held a virtual meeting Thursday, two days after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued new guidance on how federal CARES Act funding —which is meant to help governments offset unexpected expenses brought by the coronavirus pandemic — would be distributed to small cities and counties across the state. 

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Kemp’s long-awaited guidance said that municipalities inside the four large metro Atlanta counties that already got direct CARES Act allocations would not be included in the state’s plans. Cities in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett would have to turn to their counties for a cut of the money they already received in late March.

Discussions between mayors and county leaders in those major metro Atlanta communities have been contentious over the subsequent months. Many counties have resisted providing direct funding to cash-strapped cities, saying they were waiting to see if municipalities would get their own money from the state; pointing out that they provide many countywide services; or arguing they would be the ones on the hook if cities misspent what they were given. 

In DeKalb at least, Kemp’s guidance appears to have paved the way for a resolution.

During Thursday’s meeting — the third between Thurmond and local mayors since March — the CEO made it clear that he planned to recommend the cities receive funding (with the ultimate decision resting with DeKalb’s Board of Commissioners). 

Thurmond, the mayors and the leader of the DeKalb Municipal Association agreed to hold another meeting Monday to discuss the formula for distribution. But the total allotment could be about $49 million of the $125 million the county received.

Any allocation would likely be split on a per capita basis among DeKalb’s 12 cities.

Kemp’s formula for distribution to other small jurisdictions across the state involves dividing about 30% of the total pot and distributing it as lump payments. The remaining 70% would be available for local governments to request reimbursement for expenses they incur. 

Thurmond and DeKalb’s mayors agreed Thursday that they’d likely follow a different path, distributing whatever cities are owed up front and being done with it. 

“I don’t want to be on the back end of 70% of the money,” Thurmond said. “I would prefer that the cities get their money at one time. Because we’re all big boys and girls, you all are just as responsible as me.”

That came as a relief to several mayors, who said they need money and need it as quickly as possible to cover things like hazard pay for frontline workers, assistance for local small businesses and other significant expenses.

“We don’t have the cash flow to go spend the money first and then ask to get it back,” Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said. 

The three-month wait to figure out what they’ll have the money to cover has been excruciating, they said. 

“What we need now is cash in the cities’ bank accounts,” DeKalb Municipal Association leader Bill Floyd said. “That’s what they need.”

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